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Suppression Granted For Traffic Stop Delay

Deborah Elkins//July 27, 2015

Suppression Granted For Traffic Stop Delay

Deborah Elkins//July 27, 2015

A police officer who stopped a car for speeding and for no other reason illegally extended the scope of the stop when he began asking the car’s occupants about drugs and permission to search, and the Hanover Circuit Court suppresses marijuana found in an unlabeled pill bottle in a passenger’s purse.

The commonwealth argues that because the traffic stop was lawful, the officer was authorized to ask the driver and any passengers about contraband in the vehicle, even if such matters were unrelated to the traffic stop. The commonwealth is correct that the Fourth Amendment does tolerate certain unrelated investigations to take place during a routine traffic stop, subject to a durational limitation.

The issue before the court is wither the detention of defendant was measurably prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete the mission of the stop by the officer’s inquiries into the existence of contraband in the vehicle. The court finds the officer impermissibly extended the detention of the defendant to open a new investigation that was unsupported by reasonable articulable suspicion. The officer testified at the hearing that, upon investigating the original traffic stop, he had formed no articulable suspicion of any criminal activity in the car, such as the smell of marijuana, furtive movements or evidence of intoxication. The officer gave no reason in sport of his new inquiry regarding contraband, other than the fact that he asks such questions as a part of a personal routine during each and every traffic stop.

Once the officer found no additional indicia of criminal activity and returned to his vehicle the detention had reached the durational limits of a justifiable seizure for a routine traffic stop. At that point, the law afforded the officer with several courses of conduct. One option was for the officer to issue a ticket to the driver for excessive speed. The officer also had the discretion to let the driver go free with a warning. While the officer was free to investigate criminal activity that was supported by reasonable articulable suspicion, the evidence before the court is that the officer continued the traffic stop solely to investigate for contraband in the vehicle without such suspicion.

The court finds that seizure of defendant was unlawful because the officer detained defendant beyond the time reasonably required to complete the mission of issuing a ticket for speeding. The evidence found during the unlawful seizure must be suppressed.

Commonwealth v. Anderson (Harris) No. CR 15000293-00, July 8, 2015; Hanover Cir.Ct.; Mackenzie K. Babichenko, Ass’t Comm. Att’y; Joseph McGrath for defendant. VLW 015-8-077, 3 pp.

VLW 015-8-077

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